The other day a few of us were sitting around our office conference room table munching on pizza and cookies. We bribed Heidi to join us with the promise of ice cream that she had bought but I had stashed at the office. As we were munching on pizza Jondou threw out the prompt: “Racism likes _________” and we started throwing out answers.
Racism likes woke folx who like to analyze but don’t disrupt.
Racism likes people who want simple stuff – tip sheets and worksheets, but don’t do their own reflections.
Racism likes to self-correct to protect itself and its power.
Racism likes the status quo.
Racism likes white people.
As we went around throwing out ideas we chuckled and then ate more ice cream. Racism likes ice cream too – soft creamy and melty, like white fragile people when you talk about race and the conversation gets heated.
The truth is racism thrives when conditions are right and no one stops to ask deeper and harder questions, or when people don’t stop and disrupt racism from happening. It happens all the time when we allow the status quo to continue or we don’t ask questions or call out things disparities.
Hard vs. Simple
As we chuckled and ate our way through the conversation we talked about how people, especially white people who aren’t comfortable in talking about race, like simple things. They ask for simple tools – checklist and worksheets, reading list, TED Talks, etc. Yet even when given these tools, do they really use them or do they file them away for when they need to lead a training at work or school on race. They can then pull out the list of prompts and activities to look and sound woke.
Undoing and fighting racism takes harder brain work. We can’t worksheet our way out of racist thinking or practices. Worksheets, online quizzes, and watching TED Talks are first steps and ways to help us get into the right mindset or to open us to new ways of thinking. The real work is in self-reflection, listening and thinking, and then using the skills and knowledge to spot and call out racism.
Self-reflection around race is hard work. It is also something we all have to do if we’re going to be honest and realize our personal roles in undoing racism and creating a more just community. People of color also benefit when we take the time to do deeper thinking about the roles and impacts of race on our own privileges and oppression. When we do this reflective work we can also begin to see ways we can work to undo the nasty hold racism has on our lives and our communities.
The reflective work is hard and it can be scary. It is scary to realize we may have unearned privilege even though American ethos preaches hard work is key. It can also be hard to reflect alone or with people whom you feel safe with because they may not challenge you to think deeper and think more broadly. As an example, if I need to uncover my racial biases I really shouldn’t be doing that deeper thinking with just white and Asians. While it may feel safer for me to do so, as an Asian American who grew up in an Asian majority community I need to challenge myself to learn more about and reflect on the experiences of Latinx, Native Americans/Indigenous, African Americans, and others.
Racism likes and doesn’t like
Sometimes when I’m stuck I try to think about the opposite. Years ago I had a mentor who challenged us to do this. We told him we couldn’t do an event because of a laundry list of reason – not enough time, no money, yada yada. He stopped us mid-way through our list and said “You’ve told me how you can’t do it, but have you thought about how you can do it? Let’s think about that for a moment.” So we did and while it still made sense for us to not do the event, thinking about the opposite was equally important and empowering to figure out what we could do. So in that vein of thought let’s think about what racism doesn’t like:
Racism doesn’t like thinking
Racism doesn’t like people who analyze and then use that analysis to propel change
Racism doesn’t like people of color who survive and thrive despite racist conditions
Racism doesn’t like intersectionality and focusing on our multiplicities of being
Racism doesn’t like it when we organize, concentrate power for good and work to unseat power hoarders
Racism doesn’t like change
Now that we’ve named what racism doesn’t like we can do the hard work of changing our communities for the better.
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